Braving the cold and Gold Coast traffic, people come from in and around the Chicago area for the ninth annual Elvis Fest at The Original Mother’s to celebrate what would have been The King’s seventy-fourth birthday. The festivities include live performances from Elvis tribute artists, karaoke, a look-alike contest, an appearance by Dick Biondi and birthday cake.
The evening begins with performer Ed Parzygnat belting out a beautiful rendition of “I Got A Woman/Amen.” Having attended and performed the Elvis Fest for all nine years, Parzygnat proves to be a crowd favorite as he teases and jokes around with the audience, even dispensing a bit of Elvis trivia concerning his Indian motif jumpsuit.
“I’ve been doing this for five years now,” sweet-as-pie bartender Nikki explains. “It’s a very different crowd from usual, but I see the same faces come out here year after year just for this.” Like Denise Seagle of Chicago, who hasn’t missed a fest in five years, and has spent the last two dragging her friend Cindy Risty along. Mitch Cohen has made it every time for the past three years, always parking his wheelchair against the makeshift stage.
Throughout the night, peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches (Elvis’ favorite dish) are made available for patrons. While they taste a lot better than they sound, the trays remain filled with the bite-sized snacks throughout the night. Likewise, portrait artists creating live paintings of Elvis on stage during the various impersonators’ performances are either ignored or just unnoticed. The only other missed opportunity is the lack of look-alike contestants amongst audience members. With a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas, one would expect more than just a handful of overlarge sideburns and pompadours.
Despite the title, Elvis isn’t the only reason people come out to Mother’s every January 8. Nikki recounts a previous year when a couple drove all the way from Virginia just to meet Biondi. And who can blame them? Biondi takes the time to greet patrons and even pose for pictures. “Elvis is probably my all-time favorite rock singer. He might not have been the first, but he opened a lot of doors for a lot of people,” Biondi admits.
“It’s over the top,” three-year patron Larry Gorchowski points out as two women pull a friend closer to the stage while performer Jerome Marion croons “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” “And you can’t go wrong with Elvis.”
Gorchowski adds, “Fat Elvis. Fat Elvis is king.” (Khaveri Campbell)